A couple months ago, I was listening to an audio book about St. Francis in which the author discussed how monks in medieval times would have written. Unlike me, who jots my thoughts down on anything from scraps of paper to smart notebooks, Francis would not have had access to such things.
Francis’ writings, like his contemporaries, was etched into the treated hides of animals. In order to write a treatise of any kind, an animal would need to perish. No part went to waste. The meat was used to feed people, the bones used for tools, the hide used for anything from clothing to publishing.
Of course, we know that St. Francis had a heart for animals. There are famous stories of him taming a wild wolf that terrorized a village, preaching a sermon to birds, and always treating animals with kindness. So, for Francis, who was also known to compose poetry, to write something down, he was well aware of the end cost of that. Another life would need to be lost in order for him to have his words preserved for posterity. He didn’t write much, seeming to wish to have his thoughts well-ordered before he committed them to the hides that would hold them. His writing were short, and to the point and didn’t flow on with undo flowery language.
I thought about Psalm 8 as I listened to the book, thinking about the differences in the ways we perceive our role as being made “only slightly less than divine.”
Some would take that to say that we are superior to the world around us–only expected to submit to God. That line of thinking allows us to dominate and domineer our world. It is how we’ve harnessed water to feed new life in desert areas. It’s how we’ve domesticated animals, not only for our nourishment and for labor, but also for companionship and pleasure. We, as humans, some would say, have been made greater than all that is around is and put in charge of it.
However, others would see that line as a call to great humility, and I think St. Francis would have been in that school of thought.
By being made “slightly less than divine”, we have indeed been given reign over the world around us, but with it comes enourmous responsibility. A sloppy caretaker of God’s world will see it fall apart, harmed by our sins, and losing the grandeur of it’s orginal creation.
St. Francis lived that example by always caring for the people, the animals, and the world around him. He was not one to trample a flower if there was a way to allow it to continue to bloom. He didn’t want to see an animal perish for him if he had any other option. And when he did need to cut down a tree, or slaughter an animal, he did so with a heart filled with a sense of awe that he’d been entrusted with this kind of responsibility and had the power to make these kinds of choices. Nothing lost it’s life so that Francis could live without Francis celebrating it’s life and it’s gift to him.
Our stature as “slightly less than divine” doesn’t make us kings and queens, free to rule as we wish. It is actually a call to remember who has entrusted this responsibility to us, to cherish what has been entrusted to us, and to care for it… not as if it is ours, but as if it belongs to… well… God.
David, who was a king who could command others, looked up to the starry sky and was amazed by the beauty and vastness of God’s creation. Realizing that he had been put in charge of so much didn’t make David feel bigger, but it reminded him of his responsibility and renewed a sense of humility within him. Standing in the endless expanse of God’s creation made David realize how very big God is, and yet, God still cared about him, one little lump of clay in the midst of eternity. He couldn’t contain his praises as he looked around with awe at all that was God’s and thought about what God had entrusted to him.
Let us always feel that same sense of awe.